Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Causes Some Picture Books to Falter?

Week of October 23—What We Can Learn from Horn Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 25—What Causes Some Picture Books Falter?

Of the 329 picture books reviewed in the latest edition of The Horn Book Guide to Children’s Young Adult Books, forty-eight books received a score of “5” and one book received a “6” for a total of 15% below the “recommended” categories. Remember what the “5” and “6” ratings mean:

5 = Marginal, seriously flawed, but with some redeeming quality
6 = Unacceptable in style, content, and/or illustration

In all fairness to these authors, they did get published which is saying a lot these days. But in all honesty, booksellers and librarians use the Horn Book reviews (and other reviews) to help inform their decisions about what books to order, stock, sell, buy, and shelf. So these reviews can’t be taken with a grain of salt.

While I have no intention of offending the authors in these “5” and “6” categories by listing their names or the titles of their books, I do want to explore what kind of observations the reviewers made about the text of the these books. (Please note that the reviewers were also critiquing the illustrations, but I’ll focus solely on the writing in this post.) I’m hoping I can learn from this overview what stumbling blocks to avoid in my writing. Hopefully you can do the same.

Here are some of the comments I discovered about . . .

·        Bland and stumbling rhymed text
·        Feels forced
·        Wordy, esoteric text, isn’t likely to resonate with readers
·        The story line is too jumpy to follow
·        Well intentioned, but falls flat
·        Packing books with words that include the featured letter feels disjointed and gimmicky
·        Distracting experience for readers
·        What’s meant to be humorous, falls flat
·        There’s not much here
·        The text is trite
·        It’s hard to figure out what’s going on
·        Little cohesion
·        Anyone averse to gender stereotypes should steer clear
·        Witless rhymes
·        The overall effect is bland
·        Stilted prose
·        The story is very slight
·        Plodding, heavy-handedness
·        Laborious and facile
·        Narrative is unexciting
·        The text is cheery . . . but forced
·        Lackluster rhymes won’t appeal to anyone
·        Grown-up aimed jokes
·        The story is lackluster and difficult to follow
·        An utterly confusing book
·        Predictable
·        The wordy text meanders
·        The rhymed text confuses the issue
·        Overlong, plodding text
·        Doesn’t even bother with an ending
·        The story is overly sentimental

·        In-your-face gross out element feels forced
·        . . . the lengthy book seems not to be storytelling so much as a desire to introduce quirky characters
·        The story and the concept are muddy
·        What’s supposed to be hip, seems like squaresville
·        The problems [addressed in this book] have been treated with more originality and sophistication in countless other books
·        TV tie-ins with so-so story lines

·        Fabricated dialogue may prove too difficult to young readers
·        The dialogue is groan-worthy
·        Jokey dialogue falls flat
·        Narrator’s voice feels forced
·        Wooden dialogue

·        The plot rolls along, but the message-y ending rings false
·        The moral lesson is too transparent
·        The lesson is predictable

Did reading those remarks make you as depressed as typing them made me? I feel for those writers. I almost think we should light a candle and have a moment of silence for them. Granted, a critique is one person’s opinion, but for the majority of the books reviewed to fall in the middle and these books to fall in the bottom 15% is telling.

Tomorrow we’ll think about how to apply what we’ve learned from these reviews. In the meantime, I have some candles to light.

It’s Your Turn!
1. If you’re like me, one or two items from the list above may ring true to you regarding your own writing. Make a note of those concerns and then make a conscious effort to revise your manuscripts with those concerns in mind.


Cathy Ballou Mealey said...

Such an interesting post, especially when read upon the heels of the previous post lauding the more stellar 8%. Horn Book reviews will shape book purchases by libraries, schools, etc. but I suspect many of these less-well reviewed books may still be commercial successes. Of course we all want kids to read GREAT books, but they may first gravitate to familiar cartoon and pop culture characters and topics. How to combine the two - that is the challenge publishers should embrace!

Rob Sanders said...

Nicely said!

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Makes me worry about what Horn Book may have said about my books...!